SōRSE Producers Series: Adapt Brands  2.0 Update

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Written by | May 23rd, 2023

For the 10th post of our Producers Series, we spoke to Richie Harrington, founder and owner of Adapt Brands, to get an update on his business. We first spoke with Richie in February 2022 for Producers Series 8 when he was preparing to launch the first two SuperWaters, Immunity and Recovery. In this recent interview, Harrington shares his plans for expanding his product line, news on a distribution partnership, and thoughts on some of the challenges and successes he’s experienced in the past year. 

adapt super cbd water

It has been a year and half since we published Adapt’s first Producers Series; what’s happened since you launched your beverages last year?

A lot is the answer to that! Since launching in April 2022, we not only became the first and only hemp beverage to be NSF Certified for Sport, but we’ve also become the first hemp CBD beverage to be sold into professional sports teams’ locker rooms. Our goal has been to continue to dominate the athletic space and be a product that athletes use on a day-to-day basis, instead of paying to be in a locker room or potentially in the stadium. Those deals will come because we’ve seen how well our product has done in the retail space as well with professional athletes.  That’s a route that we want to continue to pursue because we know that athletes can use our products as an alternative to sugary, synthetic beverages.  

 We’ve had a lot of requests to expand our line to improve other functions that athletes are looking for, like focus, to replace prescribed substances like Adderall. 

At a young age,  I was diagnosed with ADHD. When Adderall was prescribed to me in college, I had to go through 10+ hours of neuro-psych testing for it to be approved by the NCAA so that I could play football. Eventually I got to a point where I wanted to move away from taking it, especially when I found that hemp and CBD helped me focus and that I didn’t need the prescription anymore.  

As we expand the product line, it makes sense to include beverages for focus and sleep, because sleep is another function that athletes want help with. Getting good sleep can be challenging, especially right after competing when you experience a huge adrenaline rush, which makes it hard to fall asleep. Another problem is that a lot of athletes travel for away games, and the time changes can mess with your sleep cycle.  

Some athletes use opioids to get to sleep, and others use products like Melatonin. Both are problematic, because we know opioids are addictive, but not everyone knows that our body produces melatonin naturally. If we start taking a product that has melatonin in it, our body starts to become dependent on that, and the body will stop producing it on its own. I wanted to create a sleep product that’s healthy and natural. I’m super excited that these two new beverages will have their place not only within retail but within the locker room as an easy grab and go solution. Our drinks are the antithesis to sugary sports drinks like Gatorade, Body Armor, Powerade, you name it! 

This summer, we’re also launching single serve stick packs that will be a healthy alternative to the RTMs on the market right now like Liquid IV and DripDrop. Our athletes and the teams are asking for a more convenient form of our product that they can travel with, and having a powder option makes sense. All you do is mix the contents into your water, and you’ve made your water super!  I think we’ll stand out in this space because the powder packs will be NSF Certified, will contain hemp CBD Powered by SōRSE. I consider hemp a superfood; it’s beneficial for an athlete, especially around joint and muscle inflammation. I want to continue to attack that sector and create awesome products that athletes love and that taste good.

christian kirk adapt brands athlete
Christian Kirk – Jacksonville Jaguars NFL Receiver and Adapt Brands Athlete

What are some of the challenges that you faced in your first year, and how have you overcome them?

The first challenge is that we’re a small company. We have a number of athletes who are investors, and we’ve raised Friends and Family money. Now we’re starting to raise seed money because the demand for the product is there, but by no means are we a heavily backed startup. This really has been a David versus Goliath story for us within the locker rooms, when it’s us against Coca-Cola or Pepsi products – but we’re in there and doing well. There are always challenges you have to face, but you just have to tackle adversity head on and be persistent, and I’m definitely persistent!

Persistence with Adapt means showing athletes that there are alternative products for them that are accessible and safe. We’re a small team — just myself and a couple of other people. We can’t be everywhere at once, so that’s a daily struggle that we go through. We heavily rely on our partners to help us with aspects of the business like marketing and getting our name out there. We’re very thankful to all of our partners and supporters like SōRSE and BevNET who share news about Adapt.

What about a success in the last year that you are proud of?

I think being the first of anything is amazing. Ricky Bobby said it best — “If you’re not first, you’re last!” Adapt being the first hemp beverage to be NSF Certified for Sport was a big win for us last year. That said, you can’t just rely on one success to have continued success. Every time that we’ve got another athlete on board as an investor or another team on board as a wholesale contract, we knock down another brick in the wall. We continue to build momentum with the beverages being available in more professional locker rooms and more teams interested in our products. 

Another challenge is that the leagues don’t know how to regulate these types of products, so we’re working with teams directly and the leagues to become an approved product. We’re approved at the MLB level and NBA level right now, and we’re working on the NHL, NFL, and MLS. We’re also starting to work with teams to get our products into the concession stands in the stadiums; that way the patrons can have access to these products too. We want to give sports fans a healthy way to hydrate and see that there are healthy alternatives. I want everyone to have access to our product and benefit from it. 

You have an upcoming partnership with Equinox gyms and Earthbars in California, which will introduce a different segment of consumer to your product. What excites you about this deal?

The Equinox/earthbar partnership is a big deal for us – beginning July 1, our Immunity and Recovery beverages will be available in over 68 locations, 23 of them being in Equinox gyms. The fact that Adapt is NSF Certified for Sport is very important to them, and the deal shows that this certification can carry over into the world of an everyday athlete who cares about their health and fitness. We want the consumer to know it’s safe for them to take, and the certification guarantees that our product has been rigorously tested and that there are no banned substances in it. 

How do you educate consumers about your product – from the ingredients to the intended benefits?

Educating consumers isn’t always easy, especially when you’re in a young market and you’re building a category for hemp infused beverages within the market. Athlete testimonials are important, as well as explaining how to read a product label and how to look for clean ingredients. When people pick up a beverage, they should be looking at the ingredient label. Whatever that first ingredient is, that indicates the highest amount of ingredients in that product. Take coconut water, for example. Many are water-based using a coconut concentrate, which means it’s not actually coconut water. In comparison, the base of our product is 100% organic coconut water. That’s a big differentiator for us, plus the inclusion of other functional ingredients that are natural. When you use our products, you’re actually getting everything we list on the label, including hemp Powered by SōRSE. 

What have you learned about yourself as an entrepreneur/owner/Jack of all trades over the course of the past year?

Being the Chief Everything Officer is definitely not easy! You have to wear a lot of hats in a startup. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that you have to keep moving the boat forward, whether it’s one inch or one mile. Positive movement in the right direction is the key to any business, and every day we’re pushing this boat in the direction that it needs to go. You’re going to have good days, you’re going to have bad days, but as long as you don’t have negative days, then you’re going in the right direction. What’s also important is having the ability to adapt – to receive the feedback that we get and provide athletes and consumers with the types of healthy products they are looking for.  

Can you share a piece of advice for someone thinking about starting a beverage business or a business of any kind?  What would you advise them to do in that iteration phase?

adapt super water

Be persistent. You have to be persistent in everything you do, whether it’s coming up with an idea or formulating something new. Persist when pushing the boat in the direction you want to go, but also be flexible and adaptable. If things aren’t working the way you want them to or you’re not getting the outcomes you want, you have to be able to shift gears and reassess what you’re doing.  Being intentional is also important; there needs to be a reason for every decision and move you make. For someone wanting to create a beverage brand, first and foremost, it has to taste good! If it doesn’t, people just won’t buy it. And – find a way to differentiate yourself from other brands; find ways to stand out from the competition.